Sunday, May 31, 2009
Then there is Dibble, who can best be summed up with his analysis of Tommy John, comparing him to Jamie Moyer. Then they start talking about Tommy John surgery, to which he adds: "They could have named a Rob Dibble surgery... it would have been a lobotomy."
Friday, May 29, 2009
Saturday: Shairon Martis vs Cole Hamels
Sunday: John Lannan vs Jamie Moyer
Just as a refresher, JA Happ is the man who came out of the bullpen two Fridays ago and with a runner on struck out Johnson, Zimmerman, and Dunn to force a 12th inning. Despite Hamels being the ace, Happ will likely be the toughest puzzle to solve. Right now, his numbers look great, but when you dig a little deeper, Happ has been a strike out pitcher at every professional level. Since moving to the majors, however, despite what he did to the heart of the Nats order, he has been absorbing more contact all the while posting a .219 BABIP. Has Happ been lucky? Possibly. Do these tactics figure to work as the Phillies move him into the rotation? Probably not. He is a lefty who has shown he can get the Nats big bats out, so it will be interesting to see how Manny sets his lineup tonight. The Phillies are absorbing a big blow losing Brett Myers, so the Nats need to make the most of this opportunity to exact some revenge.
After a shaky start, Hamels looks to be rounding back into frontline form. Another lefty will give Manny more decisions to make with the lineup. The key will be to get his pitch count up early and have him out of the game by the sixth. Happ probably won't go too deep, so getting to their bullpen two straight days will create some opportunities against the likes Chad Durbin and Chan Ho Park. A third straight lefty will follow Sunday with Jamie Moyer, who has really struggled this year with the Medicare cuts. He has always skated by with low K rates, but now his command is a little off and teams are crushing him.
Getting Jesus Flores back will definitely help, and we know what to expect from the top four slots in the batting order. Willingham should get a decent audition this weekend, and Dunn will probably move to first for a game to get Kearns some swings. Honestly, if Kearns cannot get going against these lefties, it may be time to eat the contract... Rizzo does get tired of watching people.
As far as the Nats starters go, continue throwing strikes! The Phils are going to get their runs with the loaded middle of their lineup, but it's best to avoid big innings by walking guys who a are struggling, like Rollins and Victorino. Once again, the Nats cannot spot their opponent two to four runs in the first inning, as they have been often this season.
The best thing going for the Nats this series is that it cannot possibly be as bad as their last stand against Philly. There are only three opportunities to blow it this time. And what are the odds Martis stays perfect? I vote good... just a hunch.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Honestly, the first game I saw at Nats Park was this Bad Jackson. It was great, because I was mocking the Cubs for bringing in Howry, then our hero struck a massive blow about two minutes later, leaving me saying, "Wil Nieves? That guy NEVER hits home runs!"... fireworks were had by all. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that was indeed his first career home run. In fact, the Nats sport a sweet 6-0 record in games that I attend, and a slightly less than sweet 66-135 when I do not attend (OK, 35-62 in home games). Apparently the organizational cure-all isn't to fire anyone... just give me season tickets.
Wil has dropped 51 balls over the fence in the minors, so it isn't as if he cannot do it. And he almost came up Ron Jeremy-huge in the 8th inning Monday night. Hence, as the team moves forth during 2009, and I continue to pick apart every decision and booted play, remember that Wil may strike at any time and fireworks will be had.
Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman. David Wright has put up a decent batting average, and stole a crap ton of bases one game, but he is also striking out like it is his job, and his power way, way down. Zim, on the other hand, seems to have ironed out a few of the kinks in his swing (which actually caused my fiance and I to dub the Papa John's Zimmerman special, "What, are they going to deliver me a ground into a double play?). His line drive and fly ball rates are up, which has lead to an increase in easy singles and doubles, and along the way a 30-game hit streak. He is also fielding his position better than anyone in the league.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez is the Ryan Zimmerman of the shortstop position. Right now not only is he hitting the ball harder and further than anyone else playing the position, but he is also a proficient runner and superior fielder. With JJ Hardy struggling at the plate a little, nobody else enters the discussion.
Cristian Guzman? The .340 batting average (and steadily dropping) is decoration. He used to thrive on his speed, and his power numbers were driven by his ability to stretch singles to doubles, and doubles to triples. He has foregone the walk, apparently having donated his balls to science. And now, his attitude toward fielding can be illustrated by plummeting range and UZR numbers. Age and injuries may be a factor, but watching him nonchalantly jog around the infield leads me to believe otherwise.
A competent pitching coach would have addressed this by now, weaned him off the Red Bull or whatever, but instead, the Nats management has decided spotting the other team two runs makes the game more exciting.
Seriously... what are the chances that the umpires could possibly blow two home run calls in three games even with the benefit of instant replay? I really wouldn't allow Dibble around that crew anytime soon.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Many managers, like Trammell for instance, buy time with their organizational credibility. They played ball, coached upon retirement, and were eventually given a shot to turn around the team. Neither Manny Acta nor Jim Riggleman played major league ball, and Acta's hiring may have been the closest thing MLB has had to a true Al Davis moment. Right now, management is tired of paying for guys not on the roster. They are also tired of looking like a bunch of buffoons running a franchise. Firing Manny is not going to solve either of those problems; if anything, it guarantees they are going to pay another person to stay home without assuring improvement. Believe it or not, this situation sucks a lot move for Acta than it does the players or fans. He came back to a no-win situation and failed. Granted, his quotes and indifference are not inspiring anybody, and his lack of situational awareness should alone be grounds for termination, regardless of record.
Barring Manny embarrassing the club further, they will probably leave him on the bench through the summer. If things get worse, Riggleman will finish the season. Neither will remain with the club next season, and it is a good bet the pitching coaches will be cleared out as well. The smart move would be to do this before the season ends so they can pursue options as soon as the final out is made, if not sooner. Depite his track record, Pat Listach probably isn't ready yet to take the everyday job, but you never know. Keeping him and Grissom will be great for continuity and improving the abysmal defense. However, the best solution to turn the Nats into a winner will likely be found outside the organization.
Catcher: The National League has watched breakout candidates Russell Martin and Geo Soto struggle to start the season. There have been two catchers who have hit the ball consistently and with authority: Brian McCann and Jesus Flores. Their offensive numbers are similar in almost every category, though the Nationals pitching woes have affected Flores defensive numbers. Head-to-head, McCann gets the nod now for the all-star pick, though it should be noted that since Flores and Dukes went on the DL for the Nationals, offensive production has collapsed like a house of cards.
Flores should make immediate contributions as soon as he is off the DL. Our boy Wil, despite the average, doesn't scare opposing pitchers, and Bard is still clearly AAA material. Jesus Flores looks like a legitimate threat if he can continue to draw walks and hit for modest power. The 134 OPS+ is probably a temporary mirage, but 120+ over the course of a season is outstanding for a catcher hitting 6th.
There were some obvious players, though looking back, I don't know how we missed A-Rod. Some easy conclusions were drawn, but there were noticeable trends with the Texas Rangers and the Cincinnati Reds. Players signed with these clubs and immediately put on twenty pounds of mass. We went back and grabbed scouting reports on these players from high school and college, how much their bodies and games changed. This was 2004 and we were just speculating as well, but with Juiced and Vindicated playing out, it wouldn't surprise me if some of it was true and this is additional fallout from the Jim Bowden disaster.
Edit: Kasten responds.
Livan showcased all the necessary tools of a 30-something veteran pitcher - mixing speeds beautifully, forcing ground ball outs (including at least 3 double plays), limiting his pitch count early in the game, and attacking our weak bats while tempting our stronger hitters. Hernandez's only real mistake cost him the shutout, a towering, opposite field HR to Adam Dunn in the 7th inning.
The question is: If Livan Hernandez can so successfully quiet a surprisingly strong Nationals lineup, what is Johan Santana gonna whip out tonight?! As Deacon Drake earlier referenced, will he flirt with a no-hitter? Tune in tonight on local access channel 47 to find out! (subject to blackout)
The bad news is that it looks like the Nats STILL haven't hit rock bottom, finding a way to let Livan shut them down. Johan may have something special to drop on the Nats tomorrow... he's never thrown a no-no.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Where do the Nats second basemen fit in? Well, Ronnie Belliard has been so bad the Nats have turned to Anderson Hernandez, who is batting a mildly acceptable .280 with no power. This is actually shocking, considering in a full season of AAA he dropped a ghastly .568 OPS at Norfolk (Mets) for an entire season. In most cases, this would put you right out of baseball... with the Nats, immediate promotion to the majors. Honestly, I don't even know how to appropriately criticize this, since I wasn't scouting the International League last year. Soft hitting middle infielders can play if they can field well, but he looks like an average fielder and he is already 26. He seems to also be picking up some bad habits from Mr. Guzman. The Nats should be in the market for a major league second baseman this off-season.
I will post National league picks first.
First base: Not many incorrect answers here, but I think I will go with the less popular pick of the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez. I have Joey Votto on my fantasy team, and he has been obscenely good when not suffering from mysterious illnesses. Pujols is having another first-ballot season, but the reason I like Gonzalez is this: his road splits have him on pace for a 1.168 OPS and 73 home runs over 500 at bats. Amazingly, he has only driven in 31 runs on his 17 bombs. Seriously, get this guy out of Petco Park. It doesn't hurt that he has been the better defender of the three.
Where does Nick Johnson fit in? He isn't having a poor season at all, but doesn't hit with the power the public expects from the corner positions. He probably fits into his own group, probably seen by the public as being less effective than Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard. His numbers are slightly inflated by a .395 BABIP, but with the number of injuries he's suffered in his career, he should be due for a little luck, especially given his retarded 32.3% line drive figure.
The contributions are much appreciated.
Wil also had a nice deep shot last night, but came up about eight feet short. Six more feet and he may have gotten the Sheffield treatment.
Monday, May 25, 2009
But did catch some baseball.
The Craig Stammen report. You gotta love that the coaches have the young guys going out and attacking batters. Detweiler did it, and then Stammen did it. The bad news is that at no point did he look dominating. He was on cruise control the first two time through the lineup, but once he dropped that walk to McLouth, the cloak of invincibility was off and the Pirates were locked in. Having these young guys going after hitters is the best thing the organization can do as it will separate the major league guys from the AAA and AAAA guys. In the long run, Stammen may turn out to be one of those AAAA guys who can dominate the International League, but may not have pure stuff to get guys out in the strike zone. However, it was fun watching the Pirates earn their lead, and better to watch the Nats battle back with some small-ball and close one out. The rest of the weekend wasn't quite as good. The team refuses to let Martis lose, so they do have that going for them... which is nice.
So far, the Elijah Dukes injury has illuminated a few things. First, he has arrived as a solid middle-of-the-order threat and the Nationals offensive slump corresponds to when he went on the DL. Second, he flat out should not be allowed near centerfield except under the most dire circumstances, as there are no quick fixes for the defensive woes the team faces. Having him out there certainly improves the offense, although Willie Harris has been better than expected again this year. Dukes makes some dunder-headed plays in the field and on the base paths, but generally brings more things to the table than he takes off. The same cannot really be said for Kearns anymore. 5 for 44? That is not a slump... that is a catastrophe.
The offense will start clicking again once Dukes and Flores come off the DL, but due to the continued defensive liabilities presented by the configured roster.
Quick note: is it just me, or does Kearns stand too far from the plate? He doesn't identify pitches on the outer half of the plate at all.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
However, the Nationals due have Daniel Cabrera, and even when he has been bumped from the rotation and out of sight, he is still around for a laugh... or a whimper, depending on how you look at it. This cannot possibly be true, right. What if Austin Kearns admitted he had been holding the bat incorrectly? Fired, right? Seriously, what have the pitching coaches been watching? It's not like Cabrera has been cruising with his God-given talents.
I was fairly confident there would be some firings by tonight, but it looks like there is too much chaos with all the excuses and trips back and forth to Syracuse, Harrisburg, and thankfully San Diego. Randy St. Claire has been a member of the Expos/Nationals family since 1978, and letting him go would be a big deal.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Cabrera has been bumped from Thursday's start.
Stammen has been solid-awesome for Syracuse this year, but I think the bar of expectations will be set a little lower for him. I don't think he projects to much more than a number 5 in the pros, but considering most of the Nats other options are number 6s, 7s, and 13s, it will be nice to watch a guy who hasn't been proven to be a liability.
Hopefully the bullpen treats him better than Detweiler.
Basically what I am pleading here is for Mr. Cabrera to suck a little more quickly, like Barry Zito.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of watch the first home complete game in Nats Park history pitched by Martis (sad it took nearly 100 home games to get one). He attacked hitters and forced players to put the ball in play. He is capable of getting to the 8th inning because the players and the coaches are comfortable with his approach. They know he is not Pedro Martinez, but he isn't Daniel Cabrera either. He should have no problem attacking a light Pittsburgh lineup tonight. They are below league average in slugging and walks.
Regardless, the Nats have the Orioles coming to town Friday. It will be embarrassing to have the place packed with 75% O's fans. If they are going to make a move on the manager, which is inevitable because they never renewed Acta's contract, the time would be right now. Most smart fans know that most of this mess isn't Manny's fault, but given the situation, he has done little restore a sense of order. The team is playing worse each game and THAT is his fault.
Then last night happened. Detweiler came in and did exactly what he needed to do. He threw strikes, he got people to swing and miss, and he got to his spot in the batting order a second time. He went to showers in position to collect his first win, despite the shoddy defense behind him. Then the bullpen attacked... all of them. Nobody should escape the wrath. Seriously, is David Cone out there? There has to be an explanation.
It is a simple lack of accountability. There isn't any punishment for not being prepared, for lack of focus. Relievers jaunt in out of the pen without a plan. Stranding runners, strategically allowing the run to get an extra out... no plan, just wayward pitches. Granted, the Nats have trotted a few pitchers not capable of getting major league hitter out... that is on management. But most of these guys have been around the block and have done this job before.
Ryan Wagner retired. His numbers did not reflect it, but he was improving and getting closer. He is still young and hopefully his shoulder gets right and he gives it another go, Chris Hammond-style. Seriously though, if your only motivation was to play with this dysfunctional bunch, would you fight the pain?
Monday, May 18, 2009
• The Pirates haven’t seen him before. He might be able to cruise through the lineup a couple times. The Pirates are not the Red Sox.
• Get the first round pick some major league experience before sending him down to AAA to refine his game.
• A pitcher who can strike batters out.
• Showcase talent in the farm system for a possible deadline trade.
• Show confidence that his game is progressing each season.
• Smart move not breaking up the rotation in Syracuse… they’ve had enough turnover already.
• His control isn’t good enough to beat major league hitting yet.
• He doesn’t have the pitch selection to get through the lineup twice.
• He is being limited to 5 innings per start, and likely will not be given much to work with.
• There was nobody in Syracuse management needed to bring up.
Depending upon the how the Nationals hit, if Detweiler can make it to his through the order to his second at bat, whether it is four or six innings, it should be regarded as a solid start. What would not be good is for him to fall into Jordan Zimmermann’s pattern of falling behind early and giving Manny a chance to give him the hook after two or three. Regardless of how well he pitches, this is likely a one a done scenario for Detweiler, and will likely be starting back in Harrisburg or Syracuse next week. Balester is the most obvious choice to take the spot long term, as he has shown the ability to consistenly eat up six innings and not put the other team up six runs. His ERA and record at Syracuse don’t quite tell the whole story, as his BABIP is an astronomical .404. The K/BB rates are not out of ordinary, so it is likely that he has been a little unlucky.
In other news, looks like we were correct in our assessment of Scott Olsen… now how do we get the memo to Cabrera?
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I'm not even sure how to interpret this information. I have never seen anything like this before, though it likely happens all the time. Rookie pitchers sometimes have early success because opponents do not have much scouting information on them. Familiarity with a pitcher's stuff and habits does make a difference. However, this pattern doesn't fall into that category. Young players may get amped up before the game and that may affect their performance.
Whatever the case, somebody should be sitting down with the kid and getting his head straight so he doesn't continue to spot the opponent two freebies each game. The problem is clearly not his arm or his stuff.
Who's the ringmaster of this circus... I forget.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Hanrahan's velocity is down into the 93-94 range, which gives the Nationals several decent right arms in the bullpen, with Mock, Wells, and even Kensing. Forget about Tavarez. He is essentially finished as a pitcher. The problem with those four guys is that they all throw in that low 90s range, they all have similar release points and stuff, and none can really intimidate right-handed batters. Hanrahan had it last year, but he's a little off. Opponents know they can keep their righty bats in the lineup because the Nats do not have a shutdown guy. Beimel can break the lefties, and Villone has a history of being downright filthy on lefties, but until the Nats can mix up their right-handed options, opponents will continue to tee off in the later innings. Steve Shell doesn't change the equation, even though he is more of a 3/4 delivery because he doesn't throw 90+, and Saul Rivera, while a good change of pace guy in the past, has been awful this year.
I cannot believe I am writing this, but Mike MacDougal, if his arm is healthy and his fastball is sitting at 96, might be exactly what they need.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tomorrow is a travel day, and then we will be on to the 30-win streak for Martis. If he does that, the Nats stand a chance at .500.
I'll also be putting together some information on pitching changes later this week, in a effort to breakdown how Manny Acta is approaching his bullpen, and why his moves have been consistently incorrect.
John 'Imagine' Lannan: 2-3, 3.89 ERA, 39.1 innings, 15 BB, 20 K
(not so bad, especially after his first two disasterous starts)
Scott 'Merlin' Olsen: 1-3, 7.00 ERA, 36.0 innings, 16 BB, 26 K
(run support has hurt Olsen, but a gaudy 7.00 ERA isn't exactly Frank Viola-ish)
Shairon Martis: 4-0, 4.67 ERA, 34.2 innings, 13 BB, 19 K
(NL pitching surprise of the year, to date)
'Thunder' Dan Cabrera: sucks, sucks ERA, sucks innings, sucks BB, sucks K
(this guy threw at his kid in a father-son game)
Jordan Zimmermann: 2-1, 5.91 ERA, 29 innings, 8 BB, 26 K
(impressive K:BB ratio for this highly-touted youngster)
Besides Martis, the starters have been inconsistent at best. Martis removed, the starters are averaging just over 5 innings pitched per outing, and less than 5K's per 9 innings pitched. This puts more pressure on the lowly bullpen, and requires a maintained offensive display throughout the game. aka NO lead is safe.
Next week: I sit down with former Cap great Dino Ciccarelli to discuss the hockey playoffs, steroid use, and sorbet flavors.
Another good offensive effort wasted. Today looks like a win, but Barry Zito suddenly looks to have found his command again.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
He wasn't exactly cruising along, but it looked like he may get through 5 with the team in a position to win. Then Daniel Cabrera unleashed the 5th inning from Hell. The game isn't over yet, but a hit batsmen and 4 straight walks is unacceptable in Little League.
If he makes his next scheduled start, I'll be shocked. It's the end of the road trip and there are better options... Ron Villone is even a better option.
Monday, May 11, 2009
My inclination is that the Nationals will continue to send Olsen out, not because they are patient, but because they do not know how to interpret the data in front of them. Olsen arrived in Miami as a bit of a steal for the Marlins, a sixth round draft pick who had developed into a decent left-handed power pitcher. A rare commodity at all levels, Olsen dominated in the minors and was made a full time starter as a rookie at 22. Since that rookie year, him strikeout rate steadily decreased, bottoming out last year. More balls are flying into play against the porous defense, and while balls aren’t necessarily leaving the park at an increased rate, they are certainly leading to more runs.
So why is Olsen getting the crap knocked out of him? Well, the Nationals didn’t do a very good job of reading between the lines. Scott Olsen has always been known a hot-head. He’s immature and flat out loses it when things do not go his way, both on and off the mound. At times, can be a weapon in his favor, but more often than not, it is his vice. Off the mound, he is liable to pull a Kevin Brown at any moment. On the mound, if things don’t go his way, he gets frustrated and throws harder. His professional inning totals have shown that he wasn’t over-burdened from a quantitative standpoint (128, 136, 101, 201, 183, 202), though the jump in innings moving from AA to the big club looks to have had an effect on his dreadful 2007 numbers. I like to call this the Saberhagen Dilemma, where a young pitcher is pitching so well and is so vital to that teams pennant chances, management will give him the ball deep into games to get the win. The residual effects are almost always noted the next season. Ten years from now, we may see a similar pattern to Olsen’s career. But back to Olsen’s style, while number of pitchers may not be wearing his arm out, his tendency to let his emotions and adrenaline push him has likely caused some minor damage to his arm. It would be up to the GM to infer that from the decreased velocity, strikeout rate, and mental makeup that Olsen is hiding an injury, or too macho to even look for one.
In the end, any decent baseball eye could have projected that Olsen would more closely pitch to his 2007 numbers this season, as opposed to his 2006 or 2008 performances. If the Nats can milk a few more decent starts out of him this season, well, good. The best course of action is probably to send the specialist in to see if there is anything that could be turning him into Barry Zito and shutting him down if there is.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Second, the Kip Wells experiment nearly blew up tonight. Fortunately Joel Hanrahan was able to find three pitches relatively close to the strike zone to retire Chad Tracy's corpse. Bullpen-by-committee is good decision. Win as a team and lose as a team. There isn't one guy qualified to slam the door in the ninth, but they have several different styles, and each can be used to get an out at the right time. Given the lack of innings by their starters, what the Nats need to do is find that Brad Ziegler-type middle reliever to bridge the 6th to the 8th.
And congratulations to Elijah Dukes, who today was nominated for the Major League Baseball Hall of Shame by getting picked off first base three times in a single week. Way to go kid! Somebody email the Elias Sports Bureau and see if this is a record.
And I apologize for suggesting that Adam Dunn would be able to immediately improve his value to the team by moving to first base. It looks like that will be a work in progress.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
But shame on Stephen Strasburg. Shame on him for getting everybody all riled up. First of all, if you think you are the consensus number 1 pick in the draft, is it really fair to be beating on cadets from the Air Force Academy? Most high schools could take 1 out of 3 from the Falcons. I know it is a conference game, but why not save that type of performance for when the cards are really on the table in the NCAA regionals? Who knows what must be going through Scott Boras' head right now.
College pitchers, while almost always more prepared to step into the show within a couple seasons, tend to be a funny breed. Making the jump requires a mental toughness that he may not have. Pitching in the Mountain West Conference against student-athletes, facing maybe two to three bats capable of finding their way to high-A ball (or Air Force, with zero), is light years away from facing guys who are doing it for their livelihood. It is far from a sure thing that he will be able to help the Nats right away. So few top power prospects pan out; I root Justin Verlander every time, hoping he can harness his stuff before his arm falls off. I just can't see how 102 mph is sustainable for a starting pitcher.
It is a tough call, and the scout really have to get into his to see if this is the guy that can push himself and take care of himself. Can he be a team guy, even though he might never have to play for another contract, knowing his ticket to the majors is punched without having to earn it in AA and AAA?
In the end, the price has to be right, too. Even Johan Santana and other proven commodities have a market value; remember how foolish the Yankees looked dragging Roger Clemens out of retirement for his king's ransom. The timing of his gem could not have been more perfect from a financial standpoint. From a player development and draft perspective, maybe not so much. The pressure will be insurmountable to draft and sign Strasburg, and the pressure will be insurmountable to live up to the expectations of being Scott Boras' prized thoroughbred. Mark Teixeira has struggled in New York, and the general history of top drafted pitchers is daunting.
The money and the makeup.
* Nothing against Star Trek... just not something I'd prefer to be waiting in line to see. Hockey, basketball also would have been adequate substitutes.
Friday, May 8, 2009
A quality start is defined when a starting pitcher pitches at least 6 innings and gives up 3 or fewer earned runs. He then went on to state his case that Jordan Zimmerman, despite his first inning struggle, made a quality start and got his team back in the game. Sorry Rob, just like how MLB defines wins, saves, etc., you can't argue quality starts... or any statistic for that matter. But the fact is, once he served up those balls for Kemp and Blake, he retired 16 of 19 batters, and even threw a double play ball in there to quell a rally in the 6th. Six runs is not insurmountable, and by working several quick innings, he lulled the Dodgers to sleep, and once Wolf was off the hill, the Nats' bats woke up. Even the ball Kemp hit out wasn't a bad pitch, low and away; Kemp is a beast and will occasionally do that.
The Nats are now 8-11-1 since sending Milledge down, with that 1 being in good shape to add to the 8 in a few months.
Dibble made one other observation about Angel Campos tightening up the strike zone once the game got close. I doubt it was a conscious decision, and I disagree with Dibble's assessment; the strike zone was fine later in the game. Some umpires will call a blowout more liberally just to keep the game moving, prevent tempers from flaring. It plays to the advantage of the pitchers, and the Dodgers relievers didn't seem to take advantage of the edges of the plate.
Good win... now let's dump all this steroid talk in LA for some old fashioned managerial turmoil in the desert. AJ Hinch is a smart guy. Oakland pitchers used to lobby Art Howe to get him behind the plate even though he couldn't hit a lick. Once the Big Three came up, they worked exclusively with Ramon Hernandez and Rick Peterson, and Hinch's baseball IQ was expendable. Should be an interesting series.
Also, last night the New York Yankees played their 30th scheduled game last night (2 rain outs). Alex Rodriguez has been scheduled to come back off the DL today since March. Coincidence? No way. And so the quietest suspension of the steroid era comes to an end.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
In 2008, the Nationals rolled out a staggeringly bad 117 home runs through 161 games… yes, most teams played 162, but I don’t think this was the difference. Bowden loaded up the corner outfield spots, acquiring Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, the latter of which isn’t even playing regularly. Of course, he ignored the fact that he would be getting Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, and Austin Kearns off the disabled list, as well as a full season from Elijah Dukes, Christian Guzman, and Jesus Flores. The result has been a revamped offense ranking in the top third of most hitting categories despite the rainouts. On the flip side, the Nats produce a Major Movie Star-bad pitching staff and defense, ranked in the bottom third (or DFL).
Lastings Milledge, despite his label as an-uber prospect for five-plus years, doesn’t have the bat of Dunn, Dukes, or Willingham, and doesn’t have the glove of Harris, Kearns, or Dukes. And these moves were made with Wily Mo Pena awaiting a suitor. It appears that not only did Bowden think that there were other GMs out there stupid enough to give up something to take Kearns or Pena off his hands, he may have been awaiting some sort of Godfather deal for Milledge. Maybe not a bad plan, but nobody I talked
Jim is gone and Milledge is in AAA, murdering his trade value Tracy McGrady-style. There have been voices to trade him now, while he is still under control, but few teams are going to jump for a middling corner outfielder who can’t play defense and generally has a bad attitude. Just because he led the team in HRs last season does not make him even a league average hitter; in 2008 he finished 43rd of 62 OFs who qualified for the batting title.
Honestly, if Bowden had a plan for this season (easily debated), it probably didn’t involve Milledge making through spring training. All the Nats need at this point is a dance partner.
But with every bomb Cabrera lays, at least until they DFA him, hope will follow in the form of Jordan Zimmerman and Shairon Martis. Zimmerman has basically been the anit-Cabrera everywhere he has pitched in the Nats organization, pitching hard and efficiently with roughly a 4:1 K:BB ratio. He wins games, too, which is a plus. Martis' decision to skip the WBC looks to have jump-started his major league career, and he is coming off the first Nationals' complete game pitched at the new park. Yes, he made history Saturday. He doesn't have the best pure stuff, but he is a competitor and seems to be figuring things out as the season progresses.
Hopefully Zimmerman steps in with some history of his own tonight, breaking the Dodgers' streak.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Nats do not have a natural CF on the roster, and only Willie Harris has had any success while out there. Harris rarely starts and is mainly used as a utility defensive replacement. He is regarded as an above average fielder and below average hitter, but given the chance to play significantly last year he squeezed out a second consecutive season during which his OPS justified consideration at a premium defensive position (OPS+ 98).
Instead, Lastings Milledge was sent out there for several games despite being the worst everyday centerfielder in 2008… not just barely, either. We are talking a Reagan-Mondale margin. If he were hitting, maybe there would be an excuse to send him out there, but considering he couldn’t out-hit Willie Harris, somebody should have reassessed the outfield configuration.
Given two solid corner outfielders in Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns (yeah, he was down in ’08, but he was going to play this year to justify his salary), Jim Bowden addressed the need in centerfield by bringing in two more corner outfielders, neither of whom bring anything to the table defensively. Statue Adam Dunn was stolen via free agency at below-market value and is able to compensate for his diminishing defensive value by representing a power bat the Nats sorely need. Aspiring statue Josh Willingham was acquired via trade and has all the tools to be Adam Dunn-lite, just at 1/20th the cost. Jim Bowden’s plan to build the perfect fantasy baseball outfield would have worked, had it not been for those pesky investigators.
It has taken the Nats management a month to collect the pieces, demote Milledge, and move Dukes over to CF, where he is overmatched. It may look fine right now, but the additional stress of CF is bound to catch up to him and sap his bat, especially once it gets hot in DC. The ideal scenario would be to get out from under Kearns’ contract, start Harris in center, and rotate Dukes, Milledge, and Willingham on the corners. That would have Dunn DH-ing during Interleague play and playing 1B mainly, leaving Johnson to pick up a few innings or starts here and there. However, barring Austin Kearns pulling a 2008 Xavier Nady, the trade market is non-existent. The Lerners won’t buy him out to clear the roster spot, so he is staying, which is fine. He is a high-IQ player who is currently hitting like the player he was in Cinci, and fields his position better than average.
If Kearns stays, that all but guarantees Dunn getting more work at 1B. Johnson is a good guy, and a good hitter, but no longer a premium power hitter. He also has a tendency to find the DL after an intense bowel movement. The smart play, given that the Nats may threaten to climb out of the cellar but will not challenge for the division given their dearth of pitching, would be to hold on to Johnson through Interleague play, then put him out on the market before the All-Star break. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and while a compensatory draft pick would be nice, an arm with a proven minor or major league track record would be substantially better. Right now his stock is as high as it will ever be during the rest of his career, as he is healthy with an OBP at .425.
There are potential suitors as well:
1. Boston: They really need some Big Papi insurance, especially Youk hurting too. Jeff Bailey and Jonathan VanEvery are career minor leaguers who will regress to below-average. Johnson fits Epstein’s profile, as well.
2. Chicago Cubs: Derrek Lee has been awful and clearly not right... if he can’t get right, they will need another bat.
3. Milwaukee: They have been crafty, and really want to get some value for Fielder. If they are on the cusp of contention, they may shake things up. They want to move Braun to 1B eventually, anyways, so renting Johnson for 2-3 months while subtracting Fielder for several prospects and picks might make the most fiscal sense.
4. Detroit: Unlikely to add payroll, but Johnson’s salary is manageable, and they have some arms available if Carlos Guillen pulls the Miggy T and reveals he is also 2 years older than his listed age, which he is currently looking like.
A few others may pop up as well. Management brought in several big bats to address what they apparently thought were the issues with the worst team in major league baseball. They remain the worst team in baseball, and should probably take a new approach.
That disaster yesterday isn't the proper way to set off on a road trip against the best team in the league. It doesn't help that they draw Clayton Kershaw tonight, who has been filthy at home so far (0.57 WHIP, 10.29 K/9) this season. And I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter where Cabrera pitches, he's just going to be the opposite.
If I were a betting man, I'd say Dodgers get to 13-0 at home tonight.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The sad, sad thing is that management had to know what they were getting into; it is not like he suddenly lost command. He never had it. Period. Randy Johnson didn’t begin to harness his unique anatomy and stuff until he was 29, in fact appeared to be regressing upon arriving in Seattle before breaking out in ’93. Now he’s first ballot to Cooperstown. The difference is that Cabrera broke down at the end of last season after a decent start and really needed to be fully examined before coming on board.
As noted by numerous accounts, Cabrera’s velocity is way down. Everybody wants to cover their asses and blame it on tinkering with his delivery. Yet a closer look his struggles in the second half of last year reveal similar trends. He produced fewer swings and misses as the season progressed, generally resulting in fewer strikeouts and more balls in play. This season, he has produced a total of 22 misses. That number is fine for Derek Lowe or Jamie Moyer, pitchers who pitch to contact, but a power pitcher gives up more line drives and fly balls. Power pitchers, who don’t have pinpoint control, generally rely upon beating average hitters.
A look at Cabrera’s pitch history shows that even when he has been successful, he has had fairly miserable control. He actually has survived this long because of the perception of his lack of control. First pitch fastballs resulted in 79 balls and 61 called strikes out of 193 pitches. Basically 75% of the time the batter is taking all the way. Most of the taken strikes were hittable pitches; there is no grouping on the fringes. His overall first pitch results are about 50% strikes. Yes, very poor. His slider has gotten him out of jams before, but without the velocity on his fastball, hitters now lay off it and watch it miss.
There is little hope for Cabrera to figure this out in one start or one month. Randy St. Clair doesn’t seem to have the first clue of where to start. Sending him to the minors won’t accomplish anything, except maybe further some bad habits by getting a few extra cheap punch outs. The key is to shorten his windup and delivery as much as possible, eliminate the wasted energy. He will never make the leap Johnson made, but getting him to the 7th inning would be encouraging. It's not happening and he will likely be out the door by June 1st.
Of course, he who taketh also giveth away, this time in the form of Julian Tavarez, who hopefully will be out of baseball again by the end of the week. He is one of the few pitchers on the roster who can strike anyone out, but he has now given up 12 runs in less than 11 innings. Bring on Ron Villone!
Manny really should consider Willie Harris in center with Dukes and Kearns on the corners when Lannan pitches, giving Johnson some injury-prevention time on the bench. It takes a little bite out of the offense, but inspiring a little confidence in a young pitcher is better than trying to score 9 every game.
Monday, May 4, 2009
In the end, he doesn't seem to have been able to entirely shake the injuries. His violent motion will only make him more prone with age. This is a good risk for a contending team who may need veteran help down the stretch, but the Nats aren't contending, and already have a busload of guys that can't throw strikes. At 32, he is a righty fireballer with little fire left, and when he does light it up, it hasn't been pretty. Honestly, I'd be shocked if he makes the big club, but Syracuse seems to be loaded with his type (Dave Williams, Ryan Wagner, Gary Glover). This is a step backwards from a team that looked like they were taking a step forward by overhauling the rotation.
First point of emphasis with this blog is that I should divulge that I am not a Washington Nationals fan. I am, in fact, a die hard Oakland Athletics fan, as well as an accomplished Yankee-hater. I have also invaded, raped, and pillaged the countryside of Red Sox Nation.
My reason for blogging the Nationals, amongst other outlets, is several-fold. First and foremost, baseball is my vice. I love college basketball and football (both varieties- let’s not get into that) as well, but baseball can be followed in so many different ways. Piles upon piles of Baseball Weekly would find their way stuffed into my room; when I moved away for school, they were the first to make their way to the recycling, followed shortly thereafter by Sport Illustrated 1987 through 1996. USA Today was readily available in college, and box scores would often be trimmed and pasted all over the place for no reason whatsoever. Fortunately, the Internet was invented, allowing me to wash the print from my hands and occasionally talk to a girl. Usually, it would be brief.
Second, it is almost impossible for me to effectively offer thoughtful and original analysis on the A’s, as all of my information comes from Susan Slusser, box scores at 7 am, and the occasional highlight off ESPN. The Nationals are here, their games are televised, and they even have uniforms and everything… it’s really neat. And apparently there are plenty of good seats available.
Next, my fiancé no longer likes being at the end of all my jokes, and the Nats are fairly easy targets… uh, let’s just move on.
Finally, it would be nice to be a part of their success. Right now, the Nats bandwagon looks like it just made a detour through
Basically, the Nats need a bailout in the worst way, and here is my bucket. Actually, we’ll probably need that bucket temporarily as 1-3 inches more of rain is in the forecast. Use of the bucket comes with a few provisions and disclaimers:
- No one is off limits. This includes Zimmerman (both of em), Dukes, Manny, Stan, the batboy, Teddy, and yes, even all those fans disguised as empty seats.
- For every ill-fated barb or attempt at humor, some sort of constructive criticism or praise will be provided.
- I will not be made fun of for applying for the open General Manager position.
- Not all posts will pertain strictly to National’s baseball. Some will be in regards to Natinals baseball.
- Most posts will be written sans pants.
That is all I ask in return for this bucket.